IRVINE, CA - Marking a major shift in product strategy prompted by a change in consumer driving habits as well as the prospect of tougher environmental regulations worldwide, the Ford Motor Co. unit will introduce a new car-based concept vehicle at the 2008 North American International Auto Show. It is more compact, lighter and "sustainable" than anything the venerable off-road specialist has engineered and built before, according to The Detroit News.

The 3-door LRX pushes Land Rover into new territory — pint-sized SUVs that are more car-like than truck-like. It is smaller than the LR2 — the smallest Land Rover available — and would be built on a new platform, the company says.

It is just the latest example of how automakers worldwide are responding to pressure from consumers and government regulators to increase fuel efficiency, reduce carbon dioxide emissions and expand recycling efforts. Ford is in the process of selling Land Rover, and the new owner faces the prospect of investing heavily in alternative fuel technology. Europe is weighing more stringent caps on carbon dioxide emissions, and U.K. officials have already warned Land Rover may be forced out of business if the limits are too severe.

Chrysler LLC's Jeep brand - another long-time purveyor of off-road vehicles - has responded to the shift with the recent introduction of the smaller, car-based Compass and Patriot crossovers.

Land Rover officials say the LRX proves you can be clean and green, but still get your wheels dirty, according to The Detroit News.

"We are as serious about sustainability as we are confident about the continuing relevance and desirability of our vehicles," said Phil Popham, Land Rover's managing director.

Popham said the LRX was engineered to make it one of the cleanest vehicles in its class — its lower weight and reduced aerodynamic drag aid fuel efficiency and reduce C02 emissions. The interior is equipped with vegetable-tanned leather that is chromium-free, extensive use of lightweight and recyclable aluminum, and carpeting made of felt from sustainable sources. The suede door inserts and headliner are derived from a 100 percent recycled material made from used plastic bottles.

The side and roof glass has been replaced with polycarbonate, which is around 40 percent lighter than traditional glass.

It is the first all-new Land Rover since Gerry McGovern became the company's design director after a stint at Ford's Lincoln brand.

Land Rover calls it a cross-coupé designed to be a premium car appealing to new customers.

But it is still a Land Rover, equipped with full-time, four-wheel drive; hill descent control, and a special version of Land Rover's terrain response system that adjusts traction based on various surfaces from icy roads to wet grass, gravel and snow. On the LRX, terrain response is refashioned with a new 'Eco' mode for lower emission urban driving, according to The Detroit News.

More information about the LRX's propulsion system, powertrain and other sustainable technologies will be released at the auto show in January.

"We are determined to make sustainability a key element in our future product design and the way we do business, while still creating vehicles that have a strong emotional appeal as well as fulfill people's practical needs," Popham said.

"No one technology delivers all the answers to whole life sustainability, but the LRX concept brings together some of the future ideas that interest us, into a car that we believe represents an exciting way forward for Land Rover."